Sunday, May 27, 2012

go ahead and say it

Choose either "Nice voice", or "Dang, he's cute".

Monday, May 21, 2012

on the perception of beauty

022812 me closeup1d
B's photograph of me. Can you tell how uncomfortable I am?

For as long as I can remember, I've been extremely shy about the way I look. Well, there was a time when I wasn't I suppose -- somewhere between infancy and about five, maybe -- but with the start of school and puberty and all that other grown-up stuff, I just became shyer and shyer and shyer. I hated having my picture taken. I was the only one in high school who wasn't in the yearbook.

Being continually teased as I was growing up had something to do with it I suppose. School is the classic breeding ground of prejudices and insecurities based on physical appearance. As a kid, I'd gone to grade school overseas for a few years; I had trouble making friends because I was the only Chinese person there, and, well, being kids, they made fun of what they didn't know.

I did finally make friends with this one girl of Italian descent -- dear, sweet Jolene -- but just as I began to settle in, I was brought back home again. Well, now I was theoretically among my own countrymen, but I had acquired a heavy Jersey accent, as well as a different outlook on life -- needless to say, I was made fun of again. Perhaps that's why I've pretty much blocked out my entire academic career.

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting" it says in Proverbs 31, yet society's obsessive fascination with physical appearance has made beauty a multi-billion dollar industry. It seems that the first archaeological evidence of cosmetics usage was found in Egypt around 3500 BC, which is, I think, sufficient evidence that "civilised" human beings have always cared about looking good.

One is bombarded daily by images of physical perfection, never mind how unrealistic, Botoxed or Photoshopped. Our culture creates impossible standards of beauty, and then somehow connects those standards to personal worth. It isn't always easy to learn to accept one's body without judgement.

But anyway, this isn't a paper for Soc or Psych 101. This is an analysis of how silly I became when I thought I saw a freckle developing on... well, somewhere obvious. I was out somewhere; I popped into a public washroom; I happened to glance at myself in the mirror while I was washing my hands. Hm. Was that a freckle? There? I looked closer. It was.

The next day I looked at it again in broad daylight. Yup, there it was. True, it wasn't an all-out, sincere freckle yet, but it certainly was real. Now, I'd been in the sun a lot the week before this, so I shouldn't have been hugely surprised. And I know, I know -- use sunblock. But I have very sensitive skin, which is why I don't use anything at all -- sunblock, moisturiser, foundation, camouflage, whatever.

And now there was a freckle in plain sight. Well, to me it was. My eyes were drawn to it like a magnet; the effect was that of walking into a room and seeing some alien life-form sitting by the fire, smoking a pipe. I couldn't seem to help staring at it, and the more I did, the worse it seemed.

I couldn't resist mentioning it to my husband, my mother, and even Rebecca. All of them peered at the spot to which I was pointing with genuine anguish. It didn't matter that they couldn't see what the heck I was talking about; it was enough that I could. I felt like it was a neon sign highlighting my already homely appearance.

I started looking up ways to fade freckles, but besides lemons, there didn't seem to be anything less effective than lasers. Thankfully, I wasn't driven to that yet. And then, while scanning some forum thread started by a lady going through the exact same thing, I saw this posted reply: I have a freckle there too. I've always thought it was really cute.

That gave me pause. What was it, I wondered, that made two people look at the same thing, and think such completely different things? I couldn't help thinking that the person who declared her freckle "cute" was a self-confident, cheerful, upbeat individual -- I mean, you have got to be one of those glass-half-full types to say a freckle there is "cute".

Well, I decided to give myself a good shake. "The perception of beauty is a moral test", Thoreau once said. Besides the obvious fact that world poverty, crime, starvation and injustice far outweigh the importance of a freckle -- even one there -- I realised that I was not reflecting that "entire renewal of the mind" of which the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans.

"Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs]", he said, "but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]" (Rom 12:2).

In another letter, this time to the Philippians, Paul wrote, "Whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]". He did not mean fixate on a freckle.

And as the apostle Peter wrote: "Let not yours be the [merely] external adorning with [elaborate] interweaving and knotting of the hair, the wearing of jewelry, or changes of clothes;

"But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which [is not anxious or wrought up, but] is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Pet 3:3-4).

I meditated on these Scriptures, and thank God He got me off that freckle and back on track. "The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart", it says in 1 Samuel. "For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well" (Ps 139).

And then, while sitting on the toilet, flipping through an old issue of Real Simple, waiting for Kip to soak in her oatmeal shampoo, I stumbled upon an article by Elizabeth Berg, entitled Beautiful, in every single way.

The synopsis read, "Name your 'problem area': Maybe it's your thighs. Or your upper arms. Or your posterior. Most of us have a body part that bedevils us... author Elizabeth Berg owns up to the war she's long fought against her belly and shares how, at long last, she forged a truce".

In the article, Ms Berg writes, "For my entire life, I have hated my midsection... right smack in the middle of my body was my excessively large blubber belly... I could make a large serving spoon disappear into the folds of my fat... The only time I wasn't self-conscious about my belly was when it was at its largest. But I was pregnant, so that didn't count. Every pregnant belly is beautiful, for what it holds inside. But then the baby is born, and guess what's back?"

And then Ms Berg writes of her epiphany. For her, two things happened. One, she happened to catch a glimpse of her best friend's belly and realised that it was even bigger than hers. "But it wasn't awful at all," she writes. "It was part of her. And as such, I loved it".

The second thing -- and this was what really struck me -- happened when she was with her mother. It was a hot day, and her mother was complaining about the heat. "'You should put on some shorts,' I told her. She shook her head.

"'Why not?" I asked, and she leaned in close to whisper. "Varicose veins".

"'Mom,' I said. 'No one cares'. And then I connected some dots" (extracted from the article, Real Simple Mar 2012).

Reading that, I did too.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

go ahead and say it

via Sharon Mellor's Pinterest board

Choose either "Awwww" or "Wow".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

* giveaway: kid book! *

rainbow1a mom

Hee hee... Rebecca is hosting her own giveaway. Up for grabs is this book from the Rainbow Magic series, which apparently is very popular with girls in her age group. I'm told that the Rainbow Magic books were the most-borrowed children's books at libraries in the UK. Well, it's always good to encourage a young reader, non? Have a look here :)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mommy's Day!

And a little Mother's Day gift here :)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hep Cat!

Custom Hep Cat pin for a lovely lady all the way over in New York. Hep Cat is back in the shop on a made-to-order basis :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

on cats and bites

"This is not fun".

So yes, Ming was bitten by a snake -- that is a picture of him wearing the dreaded "cone of shame". I wanted to share our experience with you because I know many of you belong to cats too, and might find some of it useful.

Ming was bitten a few days ago; the awful thing is I didn't know exactly when it happened. I could only base it on the condition of the wound when I finally did realise something was amiss. He had been bitten just beneath his lower jaw, and by the time I examined it, there was already pus forming, which suggested the bite had occurred a day or so before, and had gotten contaminated.

Ming has very thick fur, especially round the neck and throat where it forms a ruff, and it almost entirely concealed the wound -- hence the importance of regular grooming! The infected area was almost two inches long and an inch wide, and the flesh was largely red and encrusted with dried blood. The flesh surrounding the pus, however, was almost black, which I figured was dead. The wound was also hard and hot, sure signs that it needed prompt medical attention.

What I did next was to clean the wound with chlorhexidine, an antiseptic which I love. It is a bright blue liquid and comes in large, economical bottles. Chlorhexidine is more effective in killing bacteria than some other disinfectants like iodine, and also has residual effects for some hours after use. Don't use hydrogen peroxide, unless you first dilute it with water (1:5 ratio), and even then, use it only once -- hydrogen peroxide can damage tissue.

Admittedly, I was a little hesitant about using chlorhexidine on a cat, but I felt the need outweighed any risks, and anyway, the vet later assured me that I did do the right thing (I could not get a vet's appointment till the following afternoon). On cleaning the wound as best I could, I discerned one puncture wound clearly, just beneath the gumline, which suggested an attack from below.

Now, through all this you may be wondering how Ming was behaving. Was he listless, drooling, or vomiting, for example? Did he have muscle weakness or laboured breathing? Well actually, no, not at all. He was acting perfectly normal and fine, which was mainly why we hadn't thought anything was wrong with him. He was his usual mellow, nonchalant self, his appetite was as good as ever, and one would never have guessed he had a bloody gaping thing on his chin.

But of course, you may already know that cats do tend to instinctively hide the fact that they're in pain, so it's good to stay alert to subtler signs of trouble -- like quiet, withdrawn behaviour; refusing to sleep or lie down; and hiding more than usual -- as well as the more obvious signs of hissing, panting, altered gait, etc.

At the vet's, the injured area was shaved, which was when we got a clearer picture of the kind of angle and action that could have resulted in the wound -- the vet then said it was likely a snake. Thank the Lord that whatever snake it had been was not venomous, for we do have a fairly large variety here, including cobras and coral snakes; Ming did still need to be treated for the infection, and get a shot of antibiotics too. The whole experience spurred me to find out more on what to do if one's cat has been bitten by a venomous snake.

What I did already know was that a venomous snake bite usually appears as two small punctures in the skin. Most snake bites in cats are on the head and legs; body bites from poisonous snakes are usually lethal. The symptoms include intense pain, weakness, swelling, shortness of breath, vomiting, and finally paralysis.

If your cat has been bitten, get him or her to the vet as soon as possible. Don't think to put it off till Monday if it's the weekend or a public holiday -- there are 24-hour clinics around; have a list of them handy. Bite and claw wounds especially need medical attention because of infection, and the potential of it spreading into the bloodstream. Abscesses -- or pus that has collected in a cavity from dead body tissue -- will need antibiotics, and, sometimes, surgical draining. Keep your cat still by wrapping it in a blanket, as movement and excitement increases the movement of the venom in the bloodstream toward the heart.

I found this useful information on treating snake bites at

First identify the snake and look at the bite. If the snake is nonpoisonous, cleanse and dress the wound. If it appears that the cat has been bitten by a poisonous snake and if you are within 30 minutes of a veterinary hospital, transport at once.

If unable to get help within 30 minutes, follow these steps:

1. Keep the cat quiet. Venom spreads rapidly if the cat is active. Excitement, exercise, struggling -- all these increase the rate of absorption.

2. If the bite is on the leg, apply a constricting bandage (handkerchief or strip of cloth) between the bite and the cat's heart. You should be able to get a finger beneath the bandage; loosen the bandage for five minutes every hour (italics and asterisk mine)*.

There is more valuable information on treating wounds and handling an injured cat here and here.

* For pete's sake, take my word on this -- be sure to loosen that bandage regularly. Likewise, a tourniquet, used to control bleeding from an artery, must be loosened for a few minutes every half an hour. Trust me, it's bad enough if you're already dealing with a snake bite -- you do not want to also see your cat with a paw that's triple its usual size, nor deal with gangrene and amputation.

Monday, May 7, 2012

dollhouse rooms



Yep, I had several requests for dollhouse rooms like this and this, so I finally decided to put them in the shop on a made-to-order basis!

If your Sylvanians or dollhouse dolls need more living space, these rooms are a perfect, economical, eco-friendly option! I use recycled boxes and decorative paper to make one-of-a-kind extra floors and rooms for existing dollhouses -- or as dollhouses in and of themselves.

These recycled cardboard spaces were originally made to be extra rooms for Sylvanian Families dollhouses -- they can be stacked one on top of another -- but can easily be used with other similarly-sized houses. Each room measures approximately 9" deep x 12" wide x 4 3/4" high. I reinforce them with several layers of thick recycled cardboard, and protect them with several million coats of varnish. They're sweet and rustic -- it's all painstakingly handcut -- but strong enough to hold up at least three more floors of dollhouse!

The room in the pictures here has already been sold -- I will custom make one just for you! Just email or convo me via the shop to discuss colour and style preferences :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

on turning 7, and still being a Mom

R blog school

A girlfriend of mine sent me an article from the UK's Daily Mail entitled Working mothers risk damaging their child's prospects. It was rather a timely piece, because I was still brooding over something my cousin had said when we met up a few days ago.

We were sitting with a friend, who is also a fulltime mom. Her son is a fine, upstanding 15-year-old -- courteous and kind, actively involved in sports, with friends who are equally well-mannered and behaved, all of whom his mother knows. He doesn't smoke, swear, futz with an iPhone or stay out late, doing goodness knows what teenagers like to do. To me, a wonderful product of my friend's hands-on parenting.

All this however, does not seem to strike my cousin -- or most people I think -- in the same light. You may already know some of my thoughts on fulltime motherhood, as well as the comments I have to deal with. On this occasion Ro was also present -- she's three -- and looking at her, my cousin said, "Well good, a few more years and you can go back to work -- they won't need you to look after them then".

What he meant was that when Ro turns seven and starts grade school like her older sister, I can hurry back to real work, make real money, and have a real purpose in life.

Honestly, I don't get this. Before my husband and I got married, we agreed that if we did have children, there should always be a parent in the home raising and caring for them -- being, well, a parent. When the kids were babies and toddlers, this concept of actually being a mother who mothers somehow seemed a little more acceptable (although obviously I did still have to deal with the comments).

Now that they're older, there seems to be this increasing idea that they're old enough not to need proper parenting anymore. It's as if seven is a magic number or something, and as soon as they hit it they won't be needing any further parental care, nurturing and guidance -- or that grade school is some sort of perfect childcare facility that frees parents from responsibility.

But the fact is, grade school is ultimately only half a day -- from very early morning to early afternoon. What happens after that? If my, and my friends', experiences are anything to go by, this is what happens -- you come home to some indifferent childminder or doting relative, get your homework done, and then spend the rest of the day in mindless, aimless activity.

Because honestly, I don't think most young children actively look for ways to positively enrich their personal or academic lives. Left to themselves, their focus is on a hundred other things, many of them fatuous, imprudent, or regrettable. My girlfriends recall how their parents would come home at the end of the day or late at night, with no clue about what was really going on with them. When one looks back on one's growing-up years and thinks of what might have been...

And now I'm a parent. I want to do better by my children. To me, raising a child is not simply having some grown-up around overseeing them to make sure they don't set fire to the house or get kidnapped. Nor do I think Xbox, Wii or even Barbie qualify as appropriate childminders. One simply cannot expect any of them to give one's child sufficient, conscientious attention and time.

Of course, I know people who say, "Well, look at me -- nobody bothered about me when I was growing up and I turned out fine", but I find that flippant and shallow, because honestly, nine times out of ten, you're not "fine". The deep-seated insecurities, fears and hang-ups; the detrimental character flaws that hurt friendships, marriage, career and spirit; all the consequences of misguided decisions, reckless actions, and irrevocable choices... And again, to think of what might have been, how much better one might have done...

Telling me that I can (should) go back to work when Ro starts school, essentially reflects how much value a person places on the work I do as a fulltime mom now. My cousin is not the first who feels that the work I do as a mother cannot compare with that of a money-making career woman, and I should give up the former in favour of the latter.

If anything, I think hardcore parenting begins when children turn seven -- and yes, when they go into grade school -- because that's when they're becoming more worldly, start forming their own opinions and branching out more, become susceptible to peer pressure, and get exposed to all sorts of outside influences. I remember reading in university psychology that around this age, a child's self-esteem is fragile, and there is a tendency to worry more, and to be more sensitive, perfectionistic and self-critical. I remember, too, the line "strong need for love and understanding, especially from the mother", because I used it in one of my papers.

But then, I don't really need to think back to Psych 101, do I? I have a girlfriend who once said, "I don't know why my parents had me -- I hardly saw them, except maybe at bedtime. They never knew what I was up to, and so I did badly at school, messed up my career, and made wrong choices in men. O well".

And that Daily Mail article my girlfriend sent me? "Mothers who return to work after their baby is born risk causing serious damage to the child's prospects in later life, researchers revealed yesterday.

"Such children are more likely to do worse at school, become unemployed and to suffer mental stress than youngsters whose mothers stay at home to bring them up.

"The findings from the Institute for Social and Economic Research are a severe blow to the Government, which has used the tax and benefit system to encourage mothers to work while stripping away tax breaks such as the Married Couple's Allowance.

"They are an endorsement of the instincts of thousands of women who either give up work or drastically cut down their job commitments to devote most of their time to raising a child" (extracted from the article by Steve Doughty, May 2, 2012).

Well yeah, there are all the studies and the research, but I go by personal experience and observation. In the meantime, I need to go over some math with Ro (of which she says "when you squish 8 and 2 together, they become 10").

treasury clipping

Teal, by Lumi, maker of gorgeous rustic accessories and children's wear. The entire list is here.



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